Could Spiritual Care Span The Healthcare Divide?

©Glowimages - models for illustrative purposes only
©Glowimages – models for illustrative purposes only

Health-care reform – just two simple words.

But the simplicity of the phrase belies the fact it is an issue that has convulsed the nation, commanding an untold number of column inches and consuming a massive amount of airtime.

Throughout the presidential campaign passions have continued to run high. As Election Day looms the issue remains one of the most contentious dividing the voters.

But for many people to whom “being healthy” seems a distant memory despite the best medical attention, these political skirmishes fall short of the mark.

To them, the heart of the matter is: “How can I get better?”

For many people, no amount of political tinkering with the medical status quo is going to provide a satisfactory answer to that question. That is why, despite their regular insurance payments, Americans are paying out another $33 billion from their own pockets every year for non-medical methods of treatment.

Perhaps more poignantly, even healthcare workers regularly choose other means for themselves. Research has shown three quarters of them “use some form of complementary or alternative medicine or practice to help stay healthy”. That’s a greater proportion than among the general public.

One of those non-medical methods is itself a process of reform – namely mind-body medicine, or changing the way one thinks.

Many people achieve this through spiritual practices like meditation, some of which have been secularized and made available asmindfulness or cognitive behavioral therapy.

Another increasingly popular approach is prayer, according to a recentstudy published by the American Psychological Association. My Health News Daily reported:

“Between 2002 and 2007, the percentage of adults who prayed for their health increased from 43 percent to 49 percent. An earlier study found the percentage of people who prayed for their health in 1999 was 13.7 percent, indicating a dramatic boost in this practice over those 10 years.”

To me, the best health-giving prayer is the kind Jesus practiced so effectively, according to the Scriptures. There is no record of him pleading for a miracle but plenty of evidence of the benefits of his call for individual reform. Of course, he used the word “repent”, which admittedly has taken on some heavy religious connotations over the centuries. But his original meaning was much more positive, accordingto author and syndicated columnist Suzette Martinez Standring. She said it pointed to a willingness to adopt a “new and life-changing mindset”, adding that “the word itself signified self-transformation, not self-blame”.

The prayer approach to mental reform I use has proved consistently effective for me during three entirely drugless decades and has left me feeling less tied to the winds of political change.

While not everyone would opt for prayer as their primary health care alternative, for many, the heart’s yearning for health holds within itself a deeper, more soulful aspiration than just medically managing symptoms. They want clinicians and other health care workers to mine the resource of what’s “significant or sacred” in their lives to help the healing process. For such people – from all sides of the political spectrum – a more spiritual framework within the current health care system is a constructive reform that could be implemented independent of either imposing new budget restraints or pandering to profligacy.

Indeed, spirituality in this broader sense is increasingly being recognized as an invaluable resource in helping to put people back on the road to health. For example, in recent years “a growing body of research investigating the relationship between religion, spirituality and health has led to a number of evidence-based guidelines for spiritual care and tools to help hospitals provide it”.

In addition, 90 percent of U.S. medical schools have courses or content on spirituality and health.

Health-care debates are too often conducted as epic political battles built on the presumption that all reform roads simply lead to new and better medical models. But if spirituality is a key component in getting better, then there remains an option for reform that will not cost big bucks but can make a significant difference.

However, it will demand an investment of the heart on the part of doctors, nurses and others working in the health care system to recognize and respond to the individuality of the patient, including their deeper spiritual needs.

Health-care reform in two simple words? “More spirituality!”

This first appeared in the Washington Post on 5 November, 2012.

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